Ross Williams, Georgia Recorder
January 29, 2024
Georgians regularly get carded when buying things like alcohol, tobacco and R-rated movie tickets, but a group of lawmakers says they should prove their age when they log in to their favorite adult website as well.
House Bill 910, sponsored by Jasper Republican Rep. Rick Jasperse, would require companies that publish “material harmful to minors” to verify the age of people trying to access that material.
The bill does not specify how companies should verify users’ age, but says they can use a “commercially available database that is regularly used by businesses or governmental entities for the purpose of age and identity verification” or another “commercially reasonable method.”
According to the Age Verification Providers Association, different age verification methods can include documents like government ID, mobile phone account records or credit reference agency databases.
The bill also bars the companies or third-party age verifiers from retaining any identifying information about people who use the services.
A parent or guardian whose minor child accessed harmful materials could seek legal action under the bill. So could someone whose identifying information was saved.
There are exemptions in the bill for news organizations as well as internet service providers, search engines and cloud service providers that may link to age-inappropriate sites but do not control their content.
Much of HB 910’s language mirrors bills that have passed into law in other states, including Louisiana, Utah, Mississippi, Virginia, Arkansas, Texas and Montana. The Age Verification Providers Association reports that in 2023, 43 states considered 144 bills seeking to protect children from various harms on the internet, including pornography, sexual abuse, data harvesting and other privacy intrusions. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones has put his support behind a separate bill that would require age verification for social media in Georgia.
In states that have passed age verification laws for adult content, some adult sites have established age verification procedures, while some major porn players have stopped offering access to people in states with age verification requirements.
Pornhub, an adult site that boasts more than 36 billion yearly hits, has blocked visitors in Virginia, Montana, North Carolina, Arkansas, Utah, and Mississippi.
In a statement, Pornhub’s parent company, Aylo, said that age verification laws encourage privacy-minded users to leave sites that comply with the law and frequent others that do not take safety seriously and that often do not moderate content.
“In practice, the laws have just made the internet more dangerous for adults and children,” the company said. “The best solution to make the internet safer, preserve user privacy, and prevent children from accessing adult content is performing age verification at the source: on the device. The technology to accomplish this exists today. What is required is the political and social will to make it happen. We are eager to be part of this solution and are happy to collaborate with government, civil society and tech partners to arrive at an effective device-based age verification solution.”
“The safety of our users is our number one concern,” Aylo added. “We will always comply with the law, but we hope that governments around the world will implement laws that actually protect the safety and security of users.
Georgia’s bill has the backing of influential right-wing lobbying group Frontline Policy Action.
“The statistics are alarming: children as young as 10 are being exposed to pornographic material, with millions of such videos viewed daily by minors,” said Frontline president Cole Muzio in an email to supporters. “This exposure can lead to devastating consequences, including addiction, altered brain development, and a decline in academic performance.”
“With this bill, we will preserve the innocence and ensure the healthy development of our children’s formative years,” he added.
That’s a good goal, said Georgia First Amendment spokesman and president emeritus Richard Griffiths, but expression and privacy concerns make the idea less cut and dried.
“This is a really difficult issue,” he said. “The First Amendment Foundation is not one to particularly be out there supporting porn. That’s not our thing. But there are real free expression concerns with access-limiting proposals, particularly when you start trying to define what’s harmful content.”
Georgia’s proposed bill does not include a definition for content harmful to minors. Jasperse did not respond to an emailed request for clarification.
Elsewhere in state code, material harmful to minors is defined with the a three-pronged test similar to the one used by the United States Supreme Court to determine whether speech is obscene: does the material “predominantly (appeal) to the prurient, shameful, or morbid interest of minors;” is it “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors” and is it “lacking in serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors?”
Most other states’ laws contain a similar three-part test but also include lists of specific body parts and actions that could make a work harmful to minors.
LGBTQ advocates in states with or considering age verification laws have expressed worries that governments could use such laws to prevent minors from accessing non-graphic information about things like LGBTQ issues and birth control.
“So it becomes a tricky thing here when we start thinking about how access should be administered,” Griffiths said. “Should the government be the arbiter of that, or should a parent be the arbiter of that? Many parents put controls on their home internet to limit access to where their youngsters can go, to make sure it’s age appropriate. That feels much better a solution than having a government-imposed situation that might also violate the privacy of those who are not juveniles.”
HB 190 has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.
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